Is the war on ter­ror over?

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

Do we still need to fight a war on ter­ror? The an­swer seems to be “no” for an in­creas­ing num­ber in the West who are weary over Afghanistan and Iraq or com­pla­cent from the ab­sence of a ma­jor at­tack on the scale of Septem­ber 11, 2001.

The Bri­tish For­eign Of­fice has scrapped the phrase “war on ter­ror” as in­ex­act, in­flam­ma­tory and coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand has just dropped the term “long war” to de­scribe the fight against rad­i­cal Is­lam.

An in­flu­en­tial book mak­ing the rounds — “Overblown: How Politi­cians and the Ter­ror­ism In­dus­try In­flate Na­tional Se­cu­rity Threats, and Why We Be­lieve Them” — ar­gues that the threat from al Qaeda is vastly ex­ag­ger­ated. Zbig­niew Brzezin­ski, Jimmy Carter’s na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, goes fur­ther, as­sur­ing us we are ter­ror­ized mostly by the false idea of a war on ter­ror — not the ji­hadists them­selves.

Even one­time neo-con­ser­va­tive Francis Fukuyama, who in 1998 called for the pre-emp­tive re­moval of Sad­dam Hus­sein, be­lieves “war” is the “wrong metaphor” for our strug­gle against the ter­ror­ists.

Oth­ers point out that mot­ley Is­lamic ter­ror­ists lack the re­sources of the Nazi Wehrma­cht or the Soviet Union.

This think­ing may seem un­der­stand­able given the in­ef­fec­tive­ness of al Qaeda to kill many Amer­i­cans af­ter 2001. Or it may re­flect hopes that, if we only leave Iraq, rad­i­cal Is­lam will wither away. But it is dead wrong for a num­ber of rea­sons:

(1) Is­lamic ter­ror­ists plot­ting at­tacks are ar­rested pe­ri­od­i­cally in both Europe and the United States. Just two weeks ago a leaked Bri­tish re­port de­tailed al Qaeda’s plans for fu­ture “largescale” op­er­a­tions. We shouldn’t be blamed for be­ing alarmist when our alarmism has re­sulted in our safety at home for the last five years.

(2) Have we forgotten that Nazi Ger­many was never able to kill 3,000 Amer­i­cans on our home­land? Did Ja­pan ever de­stroy 16 acres in Man­hat­tan or hit the nerve cen­ter of the U.S. mil­i­tary? Even the Soviet Union couldn’t in­flict bil­lions of dol­lars in dam­age to the U.S. econ­omy in a sin­gle day.

(3) In some ways state­less ter­ror­ists can be more dan­ger­ous than past con­ven­tional threats. Au­to­crats in some Mid­dle East coun­tries al­low in­di­rect fi­nan­cial and psy­cho­log­i­cal sup­port for al Qaeda ter­ror­ists with­out leav­ing foot­prints of their in­tent. They must as­sume a sin­gle ter­ror­ist strike could kill thou­sands of Amer­i­cans with­out our abil­ity to strike back at their cap­i­tals. This in­abil­ity to tie a state to its sup­port for ter­ror­ism is our great­est ob­sta­cle in this war — and our en­e­mies’ great­est ad­van­tage.

(4) Ji­hadists have al­ready scored suc­cesses in all sorts of ways be­yond al­ter­ing the very na­ture of air travel. Car­toon­ists now lam­poon ev­ery­one and ev­ery­thing — ex­cept Mus­lims. The pope must weigh his words care­fully. Oth­er­wise, priests and nuns are at­tacked abroad. A sin­gle false Newsweek story about one flushed Ko­ran led to riot and death. The net re­sult is that ter­ri­fied mil­lions in West­ern so­ci­eties silently ac­cept that for the first time in cen­turies they can­not talk or write hon­estly about what they think of Is­lam and the Ko­ran.

(5) Ev­ery­thing from our 401(k) plans to mu­nic­i­pal wa­ter plants de­pend on so­phis­ti­cated com­put­ers and com­mu­ni­ca­tions. And you don’t need a mis­sile to take them down. Two oceans no longer pro­tect the United States — not when the In­ter­net knows no bound­aries, our borders are rel­a­tively wide open, and dozens of ships dock and hun­dreds of flights ar­rive daily.

A germ, some spent nu­clear fuel or a vial of nerve gas could cause as much may­hem and calamity as an ar­mored di­vi­sion in Adolf Hitler’s army. The Sovi­ets were con­sid­ered ra­tio­nal en­e­mies who ac­cepted the bleak laws of nu­clear de­ter­rence. But ji­hadists claim they wel­come death if their mar­tyr­dom kills thou­sands of Amer­i­cans.

Fi­nally, rad­i­cal Is­lamists largely arise from the oil-rich Mid­dle East. Since Septem­ber 11, 2001, the price of oil has sky­rock­eted, trans­fer­ring tril­lions of dol­lars from suc­cess­ful West­ern, In­dian and Chi­nese economies to un­suc­cess­ful Arab and Ira­nian au­toc­ra­cies.

Ter­ror­ists know that blow­ing up a Saudi oil field or get­ting con­trol of Iraqi pe­tro­leum re­serves — and they at­tempt both all the time — will al­ter the world econ­omy. Even their mere threats give us psy­cho­log­i­cal fits and their spon­sors more cash.

This is a strange war. Our suc­cesses in avoid­ing at­tack con­vince some that the real dan­ger has passed. And when we kill ji­hadists abroad, we are told it is pe­riph­eral to the war or only in­cites more ter­ror­ism.

But de­spite the cur­rent ef­forts at de­nial, the war against Is­lamic ter­ror­ism re­mains real and deadly. We can’t wish it away un­til Mid­dle East­ern dic­ta­tor­ships re­form — or we end their oil stran­gle­hold over the world econ­omy.

Vic­tor Davis Han­son is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist and a clas­si­cist and his­to­rian at Stan­ford Univer­sity’s Hoover In­sti­tu­tion and au­thor of “A War Like No Other: How the Athe­ni­ans and Spar­tans Fought the Pelo­pon­nesian War.”

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